MEDIA RELEASE: Foreign Demand sees 1 in 100 Filipino Children Sexually Exploited in livestreams, New Abuse Images and Videos

7 September 2023

Nearly half a million Filipino children, or roughly 1 in 100, were trafficked in 2022 to produce child sexual exploitation material (CSEM) for profit, according to the pioneering Scale of Harm study by International Justice Mission (IJM) and the University of Nottingham Rights Lab.

Abuse is driven by demand from Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe.

Survivors and IJM are calling on governments, tech companies and financial institutions to protect children and prevent the further escalation of this crime.

The Scale of Harm study – the first of its kind — measured the prevalence of the trafficking of children in the Philippines to produce CSEM for profit, especially livestreamed child sexual abuse.

In this crime, a local trafficker sexually abuses a child in person while an offender, typically from a Western country, watches the abuse happen in real time via video call.

The sex offenders pay Philippine-based traffickers as little as AUD$40 to participate in online sexual abuse of children (OSEC).

Since 2015, Australia has consistently ranked the third highest country in the world in both volume and value of online sexual exploitation of children related payments to the Philippines, after the United States and United Kingdom, with transactions increasing exponentially year on year and numbering in the thousands.

IJM Australia CEO, Steve Baird, said,

“The prevalence of this abuse is truly shocking. Australia has a responsibility to urgently address the domestic demand for CSEM material from the Philippines. The explosive growth in the online sexual exploitation of children requires a stronger response from tech and financial companies to stop their platforms being used to facilitate this crime.”

The Scale of Harm study, which was undertaken in partnership with 24 world-class experts, researchers, and field practitioners including the Australian Institute of Criminology and former director of AUSTRAC, Lynne Walker, also drew on the experience of survivor consultants.

Survivor leader, Ruby*, said,

As a survivor who knows the pain of online sexual exploitation, the study’s findings underscore the urgency for stronger collective action to protect innocent children. Co-designed by survivors, this study is informed by lived experiences. With recommendations involving government, tech and financial companies, civil society organizations, and individuals in our communities, this study marks a crucial step forward.

John Tanagho, Executive Director of IJM’s Center to End Online Sexual Exploitation of Children added that the prevalence of digital spaces and internet-connected, camera-enabled devices pose growing opportunities for offenders to sexually abuse children with ease, anonymity, and impunity. He said,

“What we’ve seen through Scale of Harm is the sickening scale of abuse. Child protection urgently demands increased tech sector detection, reporting, a duty of care, safety by design, transparency, and accountability, along with improved law enforcement responses – in both demand and supply-side countries. Passage of online safety legislation is truly urgent, because this growing societal cancer has – for many years now – been outstripping our global capacity to respond and is constantly evolving as technology changes. The challenges are complex, but child protection solutions – in the justice, tech, and financial sectors – already exist. It is time for key stakeholders to prioritize their broad deployment.”

According to previous studies by IJM, over half the children abused in identified cases were 12 years old or younger, with the youngest being just a few months old. In the Philippines, victims were abused on average for two years prior to safeguarding.

For enquiries, contact: Briony Camp [email protected] 0468 308 696

What leaders are saying about Scale of Harm Study

Dr. Rick Brown, Deputy Director, Australian Institute of Criminology:

“The Australian Institute of Criminology has been pleased to support International Justice Mission’s Scale of Harm project as a member of the initiative’s External Advisory Council. Through our own work, we have recognized the harm caused to children in the Philippines by perpetrators who purchase livestreamed child sexual abuse. This project has helped to clarify the extent of that harm, using robust scientific methods to generate an understanding of the problem that has not previously been possible. We believe this study will help to drive further action to protect future generations of children from experiencing online sexual exploitation.”

Iain Drennan, Executive Director, WeProtect Global Alliance:

“Alarming findings from the new IJM Scale of Harm survey reveal that nearly half a million children in the Philippines have been trafficked to produce child sexual exploitation material, often by relatives or people they know. However, this issue transcends borders: where we look for these crimes, we uncover them, and once these abusive images and videos are online, they can be accessed and shared by perpetrators all over the world. Responses to this threat must therefore be global, coordinated, and guided by both evidence and the voices of survivors, just as this study’s recommendations have been.”

John Shehan, Senior Vice President, Exploited Children Division & International Engagement – The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children:

“IJM’s Scale of Harm provides alarming insights into the magnitude of child sexual exploitation in the Philippines, especially the prevalence of live streaming, on demand child sexual exploitation and child sex traffickers exploiting victims to produce child sexual abuse imagery. Every day, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children provides thousands of CyberTipline reports to the Philippine National Police regarding child sexual exploitation. We strongly support IJM’s Scale of Harm key recommendations to better protect children.”

About the study

IJM undertook the Scale of Harm study over the course of two years, in partnership with the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab in the U.K, survivor consultants and 24 world-class experts, researchers, and field practitioners from organizations across the technology, financial, government, and child protection sectors, including the Australian Institute of Criminology and former director of AUSTRAC, Lynne Walker.

Survivor focus groups helped identify gaps in awareness and understanding of trafficking for the production of CSEM as well as gaps in public knowledge on how to identify exploitative online behaviour. They also shared tactics employed by traffickers to conceal illegal activities and cited socio-cultural factors contributing to underreporting, particularly in cases with ongoing victim-trafficker relationships.

Professor Zoe Trodd, Nottingham Rights Lab Director, said,

“The study marks a significant leap forward in understanding the scale of selling livestreamed and new images and videos of child sexual abuse in the Philippines. Building on the previous 2020 OSEC study led by IJM, Scale of Harm employed rigorous methodologies, including national household surveys and data analysis, to provide a comprehensive assessment of the crime’s prevalence. It also incorporated valuable inputs from survivors through their involvement in survey design and focus group discussions.”

Members from the Philippines Survivor Network advocacy group, who helped inform this study, are urging global action to prevent children from experiencing this trauma. Survivors are urging researchers to look into how trafficking to produce CSEM is becoming normalized within societies, particularly concerning foreign offenders engaging in relationships with minors and the local traffickers seeking financial gain.

The full report will be available on 14 September 2023.

Notes to Editors 

  • The Scale of Harm study exclusively focused on one specific form of online child sexual exploitation: the trafficking of children to produce new child sexual exploitation material (CSEM) in livestreamed videos, images, and recorded videos. It is distinct from other forms of online sexual exploitation of children, such as sextortion, grooming, sharing of known CSEM, or self-produced sexual imagery.
  • The Terminology Guidelines for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, also known as the Luxembourg Guidelines, prescribes the use of the term “child sexual abuse material (CSAM)” or “child sexual exploitation material (CSEM)” instead of “child pornography”. Sexualized material that depicts or otherwise represents children is a representation, and a form, of child sexual abuse and should not be described as “pornography.” 
  • For information on countries that are driving demand for online sexual abuse and exploitation of children in the Philippines, please see the following research article: Anti-Money Laundering Council. (2023). Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children in the Philippines: An Evaluation Using STR Data (July 2020 – December 2022).
  • As of August 2023, data from IJM-supported operations reveals that Philippine authorities have brought 1,181 victims and at-risk individuals to safety and apprehended 359 suspected perpetrators, with at least 202 of them already convicted.

About IJM

International Justice Mission is a global organization that protects people in poverty from violence. IJM partners with local authorities in 31 program offices in 16 countries to rescue and restore survivors, hold perpetrators accountable, and help strengthen public justice systems so they can better protect people from violence.

Our work in the Philippines led to a dramatic decrease in the prevalence of sex trafficking of children in bars and brothels—reductions ranging from 72%-86% in the cities where we partnered with local authorities. In 2016, IJM fully transitioned our program in the Philippines to combat online sexual exploitation of children, in particular the trafficking of children to produce new child sexual abuse materials, including via livestreaming.

About the University of Nottingham

Ranked in the Top 100 globally and 17th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings 2024, the University of Nottingham is a founding member of Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students.

We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia – part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. 

The University is among the best universities in the UK for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

The University is a major employer and industry partner – locally and globally – and our graduates are the second most targeted by the UK’s top employers, according to The Graduate Market in 2022 report by High Fliers Research. We lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, a pioneering collaboration between the city’s two world-class institutions to improve levels of prosperity, opportunity, sustainability, health and wellbeing for residents in the city and region we are proud to call home.

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